Saturday, 21 March 2015

The Beatles In Mono and The USA

Just like The Stones, the albums The Beatles released in North America throughout most of the 60s bore little resemblance to their UK output. Albums were issued that came in different sleeves, with different track listings, and with totally different titles, to those being released back in their homeland. This was partly due to a desire by US labels to issue shorter albums than those released in the UK (US albums struggled to hit the half hour mark, whilst UK records had an average running time closer to 40 minutes in length), whilst US labels also used to like squeezing recent hit singles onto the band’s latest long player, in an attempt to help promote the album - a worldwide industry standard now, but viewed with an element of disbelief by affected groups at the time.

But for The Beatles, the whole situation was made worse by the fact that their US label, Capitol, initially saw no need to release the groups’ records Stateside at all, which meant that by the time they changed their mind, there was an element of “catching up” to do. By the time “Help” was released in the UK as the band’s fifth album, there had already been about NINE releases in the US. Capitol, effectively, had inherited The Beatles without their wishes, as part of the deal the group had signed with EMI. In the UK, their releases were put out on the affiliated Parlophone imprint, and for the US market, Capitol would basically have had to do nothing other than to arrange contemporary US pressings, as Capitol were essentially the US face of EMI. But it seems they viewed the group as being too “British”, with their mop top haircuts, and figured US fans simply wouldn’t get it. So, they refused to release anything by the band, even as the Parlophone releases started to dent the UK hit parade.

Other labels figured that such was the phenomenon of the group back in Blighty, that surely the group had a chance of success, and Capitol - for a while - were happy to license the material out to any old label who showed interest. As such, the first Beatles 45 in the US was 1963’s “Please Please Me”, issued on the relatively small Vee Jay label. It struggled to do much, and failed to get much in the way of airplay. Nevertheless, Vee Jay had signed an agreeement which more or less gave them access to pretty much everything the band had recorded thus far, and they would issue - and reissue - a number of singles and EP’s on their own label, and the associated Tollie imprint, up until the end of Spring 1964.

In the summer of 63, another label had a crack at trying to break The Beatles in America, when Swan issued “She Loves You” as a 45 - but again, radio, critics and the public remained unmoved. By the end of the year, EMI and the band’s manager Brian Epstein, had convinced Capitol to start releasing the group’s records themselves, and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” was selected to be released as the next Beatles US 45. The story about how this single turned the States onto Beatlemania has been mentioned on several occasions, and revolved around a US Beatles fan contacting a DJ to ask him to start playing Beatles records on the radio after seeing a US news item about the group. When the single was played, the US public latched onto it big time, and Capitol ended up rush releasing it at the very end of 63 to try and capitalize on the sudden popularity of the band.

This started a flurry of Beatles related activity in the USA, including the release of an album of early period material by Vee Jay in early 64 called “Introducing The Beatles” (Vee Jay VJLP 1062), which had originally been scheduled for a mid 63 release, but was pulled at the last minute. The relationship between Capitol and Vee Jay ended in tears soon after, following stories of non-existent royalty payments from Vee Jay, and Capitol eventually regained the rights to release this material - but not before Vee Jay had reprinted the album in multiple variant forms, including a bizarre double album release which paired the record with a greatest hits set from Frankie Valli And The Four Seasons. Capitol later issued their own variant version of the album as “The Early Beatles” in 1965.

It was a different story north of the border, where the Canadian arm of Capitol exhibited an air of independence away from their US cousins. Even before “I Want To Hold Your Hand” had surfaced in the USA, they had already issued an album called “Beatlemania!” (Capitol Canada T 6051), essentially a retitled version of the band’s recently released second UK album, “With The Beatles”. Mirroring what would happen in the US in the forthcoming years, Capitol in Canada also had to do a bit of catching up, starting with the issue of an album of mostly older material the year after as “Twist And Shout” (Capitol Canada T 6054), which was housed in a sleeve not too dissimilar to the UK EP of the same name.

With Capitol now well aware that they had some superstars on their roster, they issued the band’s second US album - but the first on the Capitol USA imprint - titled “Meet The Beatles”, it’s title seemingly being designed to airbrush “Introducing The Beatles” out of history. Like “Beatlemania”, it took it’s cues - musically and visually - from “With The Beatles”. Within months, older period material (again) was tossed out in the States on “The Beatles’ Second Album”, another attempt to pretend the Vee Jay one didn’t exist. The cover art was replicated on another Canadian only release more or less issued simultaneously, “Long Tall Sally” (Capitol Canada T 6063). This would be the last time that the US arm of the label would issue different records to their Canadian friends, and every Beatles album issued thereafter would appear in both the USA and Canada in identical form. What it did mean, strangely, was that the Beatles have to this day released (one) more album(s) in Canada, than in the United States.

The next US release, strangely, was not issued by Capitol, but by United Artists. The album, “A Hard Day’s Night”, was basically a soundtrack record for the film of the same name, and UA gained the rights to issue the album as they had been responsible for the distribution of the movie. Unlike the UK release, only songs that had a “genuine” connection to the film were included, and the record was thus padded out with orchestral, Beatles-less, instrumentals overseen by George Martin. It bore little resemblance to the UK album, also being housed in a completely different sleeve, but did - for a while - hold the distinction of being the only Beatles album to be issued with the same title in both the UK and the US - that is, if you can call it a proper Beatles album at all.

The first Capitol album to share it’s title, but not the cover art, with the UK was 1965’s “Help” - which, probably not coincidentally, was also the next soundtrack release. Once again, the album was filled with “easy listening” instrumentals. Much has been made of the US edition of the LP, with the title track coming with a 15 second “James Bond” style intro...but in truth, it’s another George Martin instrumental, that comes to a finish before the song starts. So, either an extended mix or an uncredited hidden track at the start of the record - take your pick. The first Capitol album to share the title AND front cover with the UK was “Rubber Soul”. However, the US label were still putting their own spin on the track listing front, and removed four songs from the record, replacing them with (only) two oldies that had appeared on the UK version of the “Help” album. Given that two of the songs removed were “Nowhere Man” and “If I Needed Someone”, it just shows you how little Capitol seemed to care about the integrity of the band’s output. It’s like taking “Stairway To Heaven” off of “Led Zeppelin 4”. The album logo was also printed in a different colour to the UK one.

Although the US release of “Rubber Soul” was the sign of the UK and US labels starting to sort of see eye to eye, there was still “unreleased” material in the USA, and so another ‘American-only’ album was given the green light in 1966. “Yesterday And Today” is probably the most famous of all the Beatles’ “US” albums, not so much for it’s musical content (mixing forward thinking psych-pop like “I’m Only Sleeping” with Merseybeat throwaway filler like “Act Naturally”), but for it’s original cover. The band had been consulted on it’s release, and decided to make a political statement. They were getting increasingly unhappy with Capitol’s “butchering” of their back catalogue, and so submitted a piece of front cover artwork of them in butcher’s coats, surrounded by disembodied dolls and slabs of meat - although McCartney later said that the photo was their comment on the Vietnam War, and that it was from an earlier photoshoot conducted independently from the album release. Capitol, either unaware of the satire, happy to acknowledge their faults, or simply believing of McCartney’s explanation, promptly printed up copies of the album with this cover in place. However, when record dealers saw advance pressings of the record, they complained and Capitol bigwigs pulled the plug. So many “Butcher” covers had been printed, that to destroy them all would have been chaos, and so a compromise was reached - a new cover, with the band posing alongside a massive suitcase (the “Trunk” cover), was simply glued over the top, and copies shipped out to stores.

Again, you have probably heard about the stories of “first state Butcher” covers and “paste overs”. Story goes that when Beatles fans heard about what was underneath their “trunk” cover, they tried to peel the cover off, which even if done successfully, left glue stains on the front. These “third state” releases are worth much less than the untouched “first state” original pressings, as few of the original releases ever made it out of the record company vaults. The original “trunk” covers, left intact, known as the “paste over” editions, are now amongst the rarest editions because so many people ended up ripping the trunk image off. Eventually, the album went out of print, and with the material - technically - available elsewhere, interest in repressing the record remained low, until it was reissued as part of a US Albums boxset in 2014. This, and indeed everything, in that box was also released individually, and so your cheapest option of owning this album is simply to buy this “new” CD edition (Apple B0019708-02). It comes, as all the reissues did, in a re-sealable clear bag, plus obi, and comes in the original Butcher sleeve - but with a free “trunk image” sticker which you can ’paste over’ the Butcher sleeve if you so wish!

The album included three songs from the band’s next UK album, the masterful “Revolver” - albeit in ’alternate US duophonic remix’ form. When “Revolver” was then issued in the US, the amount of “missing” material left in the vaults was pretty much empty, and so the US version of the LP simply came with three less songs. Every subsequent UK album, when issued in the US thereafter, used the same title, track listing, and cover as the UK edition, starting with 1967’s “easy to knock but ultimately, total genius” that was “Sgt Pepper”.

That didn’t stop Capitol from occasionally filling gaps in the market. But whereas the earlier US releases had been messy affairs, the ones that appeared thereafter were far more acceptable. It would take a hard hearted fan to attack 1967’s “Magical Mystery Tour” (Capitol SMAL 2835). Issued as a 6 track double vinyl EP in the UK, it was expanded into “LP form” by Capitol by sticking the EP material (in a different order) onto side 1, and then padding out side 2 with recent non-album A-sides and B-sides. When you consider that this material included “Penny Lane”, “Hello Goodbye”, “All You Need Is Love” and “Strawberry Fields Forever”, well, you can’t argue with that, can you?

According to the excellent John Paul George And Ringo site (, “MMT” was available on import only in the UK at the time, but a Cassette only release did surface in the UK, under a slightly alternate title. This was done, I would guess, to allow fans of the new fangled cassette-tape format to enjoy the Fabs on this playing medium. Such was the adoration afforded to this LP, that when the band’s back catalogue was revamped in 1976, “MMT” was given a “proper” UK LP release by Parlophone, and has remained part of the band’s album discography ever since, being included in both the 1987 and 2009 CD reissue campaigns.

With the band on the verge of collapse, Apple decided to release one more US only release in 1970, just before the official final send off that was “Let It Be”. “Hey Jude” followed the path of the US “MMT”, by cobbling together A-sides and B-sides that had not thus far found it onto a US album release, although the opening songs, “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “I Should Have Known Better”, had appeared on the “A Hard Day’s Night” soundtrack. The choice of tracks was “selective”, rather than “exhaustive”, and as such, featured a cross section of material from across most of the band’s lifespan, but was heavily biased towards more recent “rarities”. Side one started in 1964, but jumped quite quickly towards 1968, whilst side 2 consisted entirely of material from 68 and 69 only. This has led some commentators to bemoan the existence of the record, who figured it was being promoted unwisely as a “new” Beatles record, but if you simply view it as a form of rarities album, then it works quite well. Indeed, with the exception of the slightly knockabout “Ballad Of John And Yoko”, the actual MUSIC on here is virtually flawless.

Whilst a lot of the other US albums were simply compilations of albums tracks from the wrong albums, “Hey Jude” consisted - on both sides of the Atlantic - mainly of material not available at the time on LP. As such, imported copies to the UK sold well, and Parlophone ended up eventually giving it a proper UK release in 1979 (Parlophone PCS 7184). However, with import copies having sold en masse, and with Parlophone forgetting to promote the release, this 1979 pressing sold poorly. It does, however, come in one of the best sleeves of ANY Fab Four release - a brilliant front cover shot from the band’s last ever photoshoot, and another great shot from the same shoot on the rear.

In the years following the band’s demise, the US albums fell out of favour. The usefulness of “Hey Jude” was dented a bit by the “Red” and “Blue” hits sets in 1973, which between them gathered up much of the album, whilst boxsets and rarities albums issued in the UK and US in the late 70s and early 80s helped to fill in most of the gaps. When the band’s back catalogue was dragged into the CD age in 1987, it was the UK albums that were selected for reissue on both sides of the pond, meaning that the likes of “Beatles 65” and “Beatles VI”, big sellers in the US back in the day, were now seen as shambolic relics of a bygone era. The USP of these albums, where not just a-sides but also foreign language tracks and b-sides had been unceremoniously shoved onto the records, was finally lost with the release of the two “Past Masters” albums in 1988, which between them included everything the band had released worldwide that had not made it onto any of the standard UK albums. There was now, technically, no real need for anybody to want to own a copy of “Yesterday And Today”, other than for it’s notoriety.

But, there remains a fascination with all things Fabs-related. And so, in 2004, Apple sanctioned the release of “The Capitol Albums” 4-CD boxset (Apple 07243 875348 2). This included repressings on CD of the first four albums the band had released on the label in the US - namely, “Meet The Beatles”, “Second Album“, “Something New” and “Beatles 65”. Each disc was housed in it’s original sleeve, and thanks to the scant running time of these one-time US only releases, it was therefore possible to include both the mono and stereo mixes of each album onto each individual disc. Aficionados got quite excited, because several of the tracks included had - on the original vinyl release - been “altered” for the US market, and these unique American-only mixes were retained for the versions in the boxset. The individual Wikipedia pages for these four albums give further details as to what tracks were revamped for America.

A second boxset appeared in 2006, which included the next four Capitol releases - the aforementioned “Early Beatles”, “Beatles VI” and the “chopped up” US versions of “Help” and “Rubber Soul”. Early pressings contained the incorrect mono versions of several of these albums (essentially, the stereo mixes reprocessed to “sound” mono, ie. “fold down mixes”, as opposed to using the properly-mixed-into-mono mixes that were originally prepared by Capitol in the mid 60s). The only way of telling which version you have, is to buy one and check the running time of discs 2 and 4. Alternatively, it may be easier to purchase the records released individually from the 2014 US boxset, as these use not only the correct mono mixes, but also include - where they exist - more “US only” versions. “Beatles VI” (Apple B0019705-02) and “The Early Beatles” (Apple B0019704-02) are obviously essential because of their non-UK nature, but beyond it’s inclusion of the “James Bond” intro, “Help“ is less interesting - mainly because the UK release included extra songs, but also because the current (and 1987) stereo CD release of the UK version is a specially commissioned Martin remix did in 1986. This means if you are going to buy any other copy of “Help” aside from your standard remixed UK CD version, it really should be the original UK mono LP, especially as it includes extra tracks not on the original US release (they were shoehorned onto other albums, admittedly). “Rubber Soul” is worth a punt though, as several tracks were issued in completely different mixes in the US on the stereo edition, when compared to the same songs found on the UK version (Apple B0019707-02).

The aforementioned 2014 “US Albums” boxset was designed to tidy the whole thing up. Some people have claimed, or heard quotes, that where an album had previously included a unique US mono and/or stereo mix, the version included was the UK mono/stereo mix instead. Last time I looked, the Wikipedia article for “Yesterday And Today” did, at one point, claim that the “early” mixes of the three “Revolver” tracks had been replaced by the standard UK versions - my hearing just isn’t that good enough to fully be able to tell the difference or not - but it was later altered to suggest that this was not the case, and that all of the 2014 reissues went down the same route as the two earlier boxsets by using the original US mixes. I understand that, where the differences were minor, the UK remasters prepared for the 2009 reissue campaign were used to boost the sound quality (and were then subjected to a 2014 re-remaster!) but that in essence, they are more or less the same as the versions released before, and the individual tracks that made the original US releases special DO remain in situ. Trouble is, the boxset is obviously going to cost quite a lot of money to shell out for in one go, and several of the discs are a bit pointless, so it may be easier to cherry pick the ones you want - there is a “documentary” style album, which many of you will undoubtedly have no interest in listening to, whilst nothing on the edited “Revolver” sounds any different to the regular UK edition(s), and it - of course - comes in the same sleeve. Futhermore, “Revolver” is missing “I’m Only Sleeping”, which was issued in the UK in different versions in both mono and stereo, meaning these particular mixes are not even available on a current Beatles US CD. My choice? The first 4-CD box set, individual releases of the three “proper” albums from the second, and the 2014 reissues of “YAT” and “Hey Jude”. Everything else, IMO, is really for the hardcore completists only.

The story of mono and stereo mixes in the UK is yet another story in the Beatles canon, and the aforementioned JPGR site will give more info as to what was altered for stereo in the early days, and for mono in the middle years. In many instances, where a track had appeared in a wildly alternate form in stereo on a UK album, it was ALSO included on the accompanying US album release (see “Please Please Me”, as available on “The Early Beatles”). As such, buying the suggested releases above (plus the original vinyl pressing of the “Red” album, with it’s stereo mixes of “Help” and “A Hard Days Night”), on top of the albums in the “Bread Bin”, will do the job (plus, a stereo original of “Rubber Soul“ - another one tarted up by Martin 1986) - but only so far. Come “Revolver”, and the US and UK were starting to align themselves, and once we got to 1967, the EMI releases in the UK were matching the Capitol long as we ignore George Harrison’s claim that the US “Sgt Pepper” sounded different - something to do with the mastering technique, rather than special remixes being used.

So, given that The Beatles continued to issue alternate mixes on the mono copies of their latter period albums, all of which appeared in the Bread Bin boxset in STEREO, and being there are no US album releases of these titles because they matched the UK ones, where do you go next?

Let’s just recap for a moment. All of the band’s initial UK albums were issued in both mono and stereo. But by the time they had issued their self titled masterpiece in 1968, mono was starting to be seen as old hat. So everything that followed - the Beatles/Martin “Yellow Submarine” soundtrack, “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” - were thus issued in stereo only. When it came to putting the band onto CD in 87, the decision was taken to release the UK albums, as these matched the band’s original vision for the music, and records were issued in stereo or mono, depending on what was considered to be the “standard” format at the time of the original release. So, the pre-1965 albums (everything up to “Beatles For Sale”) appeared on CD in mono, and everything thereafter in stereo.

In 1988, the two “Past Masters” releases tied up the loose ends, with virtually everything included in stereo, apart from a handful of songs in mono, seemingly because that was all that was available. On Volume 1, the first five songs were in mono (tracks lifted from some of the band‘s earliest 45‘s), on Volume 2 it was just the final song “You Know My Name”. The 1993 CD reissue of the “Red” album buggered things up, by using 1987 remixes where they existed instead of the 1965 original mixes of material from “Help” and “Rubber Soul”.

The 2009 reissue campaign was designed to try and improve the “poor sounding” 1987 releases (I personally thought they sounded fine), and the first wave of reissues were stereo revamps of the band’s back catalogue. Having previously been issued in mono in 87, this meant these configurations of “PPM”, “With The Beatles”, “A Hard Days Night” and “For Sale” were now appearing in this mix for the first time since their 1973 vinyl reissues. The remainder were simply reissues of already available CD albums, with “Help” and “Rubber Soul” surfacing again in the remixed form.

A rejigged “Past Masters” was also issued, merging the two existing volumes into one and using a slightly altered front cover. As before, everything was in stereo most of the time, and the stuff that was in mono remained in mono - except for the inclusion of stereo mixes this time around of “From Me To You” and “Thank You Girl”. Quite where they had been back in 1988, who knows.

As well as being issued individually, these reissues were also included in a boxset. It was one of two issued at the same time, the other being “The Beatles In Mono”. This included reissues of all of the Beatles albums that had originally appeared in mono, meaning that this time around, the six album run from “Help” to “The White Album” were making it onto CD in this mix for the first time, at least in the UK variation. “Help” and “Rubber Soul” also included their original 1965 stereo mixes, a nice touch, but a bit of an odd thing to do in a “Mono” boxset. There we go.

The big selling point here is really the reissues of “Revolver” onwards, as most of these albums included mixes on the mono pressings that differed to their stereo counterparts, and was the first time these had been made available again since a set of mono vinyl repressings had been conducted in 1982. Furthermore, unlike those ‘early years material’ stereo revamps, these were mixes that had obviously not been swept up by the Capitol Albums boxsets, but having to buy a boxset to get them seemed a bit cheeky. An even more expensive vinyl only boxset was issued in 2014, but this time around, the albums were also sold individually - using their original labels and catalogue numbers, but each originally shrinkwrapped with a “Beatles In Mono” information sticker on the front, along with the barcode - allowing the original 60s artwork to be faithfully reproduced. The ones to go for from this period are “Revolver” (Apple PMC 7009), “Sgt Pepper” (Apple PMC 7027) and “The Beatles” (Apple PMC 7067/8). The latter is currently valued at about £40, with the others at the £25-£30 mark. Sometimes, going for one of the earlier mono pressings can be more rewarding financially, I got hold of my mono “Help” for about £7 (including postage!) very recently.

An alternative version of the “Past Masters” set was included in the boxset, before being reissued - on vinyl only - in 2014, entitled “Mono Masters” (Apple 6025 3773 451 1). Basically, this takes the same approach as “PM” (single edits, b-sides, foreign language tunes, etc) that weren’t on the regular studio albums, and includes them here in their mono mix form (meaning an overlap with a few things from “Past Masters“ at times). Certain tracks never mixed into mono are thus absent, but the big selling point here is the inclusion of four songs from “Yellow Submarine”. After the soundtrack album had come in for a bit of a kicking, the band considered issuing the “new” songs from the album on an EP, and dutifully prepared special mono mixes of these songs (and “Across The Universe”) for the release. The release was cancelled, and the mixes stuck back in the vaults. “Mono Masters” was the first time they had appeared, and whilst I genuinely can’t tell you just how different they are to the originals, they do sound fabulously clear. “MM” was issued as a triple LP in a tri-fold sleeve, but really has a running time equivalent to that of “The White Album” and is thus also valued at around the £40 mark at present.

I wouldn’t really claim to be a Beatles expert - this article is really me trying to list what I have read elsewhere on the internet in easy to read form for my own benefit - but hopefully this does go someway to explaining the reasoning behind the reissuing of material that, theoretically, people already owned, over the last decade. Now, where’s that CD reissue of “The Hollywood Bowl”?